Last reviewed 30 March 2015

“Those in my grandparents’ generation had a job. A single, solitary job. Generally, they had it for the entire duration of their working lives,” says Gudrun Limbrick. “They were a draughtsman, a miner, or an accountant. They also only worked for just one company, perhaps even just one branch of that one company. They entered as a youngster from school, perhaps as an apprentice, and retired from that same company, ideally after successive promotions. These days, it is not so easy to think of people who have spent even as long as 20 years with just one employer.”

That traditional idealised career path when you entered a company as the tea-boy and left, 40 or so years later as managing director is about as rare as hens’ teeth these days. Not only is it not so common, but it does not even seem, for many people, to be the dream anymore. Far better to review your options, try new companies rather than being tied for life to a single employer.

Some recent research by LV, the pensions company, estimated that only 1.5% of new workers will have just one job in their working lives. Surely, the death knell for the job for life is ringing loud and clear. More than that, the research found that the typical worker entering the UK labour market today will not only have on average nine jobs in their working life but also one complete change of career.

One of the reasons for this significant change is in mobility. We now seem much more prepared to up sticks and move to different areas, which means that many of us have a much greater range of jobs available to us. Likewise, companies move around too, which means that employees have the option to leave and try for a new job with another company.

It is perhaps also true that as employers, we now have a tendency to value things other than longevity in post, whereas a generation or so ago, that in-post experience was very highly thought of. We may now lose older workers and recruit new workers who are thought to be more able to thrive in contemporary conditions. This is, perhaps, a key factor. The jobs themselves have changed hugely. Developments in technology and communications mean that the company you entered as a tea-boy is now a very different beast demanding a very different range of skills from its employers. Whereas that initial apprenticeship may once have taught you all the basic skills you needed, now the new skills needed may be virtually unrecognisable.

Those very developments in communications also mean that employees have far greater access to information about other job possibilities (regardless of where they are geographically), and it is perhaps easier to learn about new opportunities and apply for them than it has ever been.

It is not possible, from the data available, to ascertain how much of the moves are voluntary (ie the individual employees swap and change because they want to), and how much is forced (ie jobs change forcing people to rethink and re-evaluate or redundancies mean they are presented with a fait accompli). This, notwithstanding on the face of it, such career and job mobility is perhaps not a bad thing. Employees get to move around when we are not happy. Employers have access to changing skills. Are we not all energised and refreshed if not by actual change, but by the ever present prospect of change?

There are definite downsides, however. For employers, recruitment costs coupled with a stop-go effect as new staff are brought in with their new ways or training needs, can outweigh any benefits from having a constantly refreshed team. For individual employees, the effects of having nine jobs can be negative and far-reaching.

It is true to say that some of those carrots which used to keep people tied into a job such as the golden handshake of a large pension, no longer exist for many. Pensions can be transferred from job to another. However, while this is one of our freedoms, it is also a source of potential problems. With employees potentially having nine different pension schemes to keep track of, money can potentially be lost forever. Pensions were once the responsibility of the employer to sort out for the individual and many employees did little other than sign on the dotted line. Nowadays, the responsibility has shifted to the employee and got a whole lot more complicated. LV believe that potentially, millions of pounds in pension savings could be lost by employees who simply lose track of what they are due. Dealings with the Tax Office often now fall to individual employees as well as we change tax codes and tax offices when we move from one job to another. It is the responsibility of the employee to review these job-related matters and seek appropriate advice and guidance where needed.

Another area of potential problems from the ”job hop” is trying to present this mobility on a CV or application form. While all employers are fully aware of why perfectly good employees change jobs or even ”shop around” for the best career, the onus is still on the employee to present this ever increasing list of employment as a sensible, one track route to the job for which they are applying. Making a coherent whole out of a list of jobs which may have little in common with each other and presenting each as pertinent experience is not easy. And yet the pressure remains on employees to present job hopping as part of a considered plan. It is little wonder that many job application forms are getting longer to cope with these issues.

Staying in individual jobs for shorter periods of time can make the individual employee vulnerable. Employees are tending to spend a larger proportion of their working lives in those first vulnerable couple of years of employment when employment rights are reduced. They are also spend less time building up years in service for redundancy payments which, again, can leave them vulnerable. Along with the terms of any exciting new job opportunity these ”losses” have to be taken into consideration.

A significant feature of the new 2015 worker, in comparison with the generations that have gone before, is that they will not only have more jobs and more careers, but will also be working for longer. For someone retiring today, the average age is 59. For new workers, their average retirement age will be 66 with more than a fifth not retiring until they are over 70.

It is perhaps ironic that the modern worker will be working for longer but will perhaps be less defined by their job as they are likely to have so many. Evans, The Butcher will have to change his name several times to take into account his changing career but will also have to be far more careful about his pension interests and tax commitments. And employers will have to put far more effort into to keep a hold of those employees they really do not want to lose.